He’s done surreptitious, but now John Catlin can dine out in style. One month after an ill-advised visit to a restaurant outside the designated bubble led to his expulsion from the English Championship, the 29-year-old American is a European Tour champion. Catlin’s ponderously compiled, birdie-free final-round 75 at Valderrama was good enough to claim the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucia Masters title by one shot from Martin Kaymer.
All smiles after his two-over-par 286 earned him the €196,690 first-place cheque for his wire-to-wire win, Catlin’s emotional state was in direct contrast to that of the runner-up. For Kaymer, whose chip from behind the 72nd green hung agonisingly on the lip of the cup, tournament golf is currently a frustrating business.
This was yet another in a string of disappointments since his most recent victory at the 2014 US Open. Only a week ago, the former world No.1 finished one-shot out of the playoff for the UK Championship at The Belfry, a sloppy bogey at the reachable par-5 17th in the final round all but putting paid to his chances.
The penultimate hole was again at least partly the root of Kaymer’s demise this time, too. Tied with Catlin, whose adrenaline-fuelled approach finished over the green on Valderrama’s par-5 17th, the two-time Major champion was six feet from the flag after his approach. The putt that would have seen Kaymer get to the final tee one stroke ahead was missed, as was, decisively as things played out, the 18th green. Catlin’s closing par, his long-range putt for birdie finishing inches away, was good enough to clinch victory for the Californian.
“This is still sinking in,” said the four-time winner on the Asian Tour. “The nerves were going nuts the whole round. This is a very difficult course, the greens are firm and fast and the wind was no easier today than it had been for the first three rounds.
“My goal at the start of 2019 was to win on the European Tour, so to have accomplished that is hard to put into words,” Catlin added. “But I’m massively excited about now being able to play in all the big events on this tour.”
Inevitably, Catlin was asked to explain what he described as a “bad judgement call” at that restaurant before last month’s English Championship.
“I have no real excuse for what happened,” he said. “I should have known better. I had finished a practice round at about 8:45pm. And I was staying in a hotel at Stansted Airport, about 45 minutes from Hanbury Manor. I didn’t want to drive back and find that there was no food being served. So I stopped into a restaurant. But I used the whole thing as a wake-up call. To win only a month later is very special.”
Back at Valderrama, as evidenced by the winning score (the highest on the European Tour since Sandy Lyle’s three-over par won the 1992 Volvo Masters at, where else, Valderrama) the other big story of the week was the difficulty of the course. How hard was it? The numbers, as ever, tell all. A sample: the eight-over-par cut mark was eventually good enough to finish as high as T-10. Lee Westwood’s closing 67 – on the course where the 47-year-old made his Ryder Cup debut in 1997 – was low round of the week. Just 12 men managed to break 70; and only one, Sami Valimaki, achieved that feat twice.